The home ministry yesterday issued a statement forbidding people both at home and abroad from spreading “false, fabricated, confusing, and inciting statements” on social media about government, military, police officials and members of different other law enforcement agencies.
“They are presenting false and baseless news about the security forces, which is threatening to ruin the peace in the country, and spreading fear, concern and confusion among the general public,” said the statement, signed by Sharif Mahmud Apu, senior information officer at the ministry.
“The government has observed the activities of such people with patience, and has come to the conclusion that it is necessary to take legal action against such people to maintain the stability, domestic security and public well-being,” added the statement.
Anyone not heeding the statement will face legal consequences according to the law of the country, the ministry warned.
The statement is the latest among a series of similar statements obstructing freedom of speech, issued by different government agencies since the pandemic struck the country.
On April 16, as the media reported the lack of preparation of the health sector in dealing with the coronavirus-driven crisis, all nurses were banned from speaking to the press. The order came from the Department of Nursing and Midwifery.
On April 23, Health Minister Zahid Maleque ordered all health officials not to talk to the media.
The next day, the public administration ministry asked all secretaries to give necessary instructions to their subordinates so that no public servant talks to or writes in the media without approval from the authorities concerned.
In a letter, the ministry said some public servants, violating Section 22 of Government Servant (Conduct) Rules, are taking part in talk shows, discussions and news on different media outlets, including Bangladesh Betar, Bangladesh Television, private TV channels, and giving comments or opinions and writing articles or letters in newspapers and online portals without taking approval from their department chiefs or going beyond his or her jurisdiction.
On many occasions, they are giving comments or opinions over government’s policy decisions, the letter said.
On May 3, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University followed suit by silencing their healthcare workers as well.
On October 7, the Department of Secondary and Higher Education issued a circular forbidding students and teachers from writing, sharing, “liking”, or posting anything that “ruins the image of the government or the state”, or “disrespects any important person, institution or profession” on social media.
They were also told not to post any writing, audio or video clips that could create “dissatisfaction among the general public”. The heads of institutions were asked to take action against any who did that.
After nurses, health officials, public officials, students and teachers, it is now the turn of the general public to receive a gag order.
Talking on the issue, eminent human rights lawyer Jyotirmoy Barua said, “They do not have the option of dictating what the general public will write on their social media accounts.
“We get to criticise them because it is our right. There is no law against criticising. This circular can be called illegal.”